Beaten Reporter: Russian Media Freedom Shrinking

MOSCOW -- A Russian reporter, whose beating has shocked the country and caused international outrage, said in his first interview after the attack that the nation's media freedom is shrinking.

Oleg Kashin said in an interview broadcast by Kommersant radio Monday that he doesn't know who was behind the attack on him. He said he shares media theories that the beating could be linked to a controversial highway project near Moscow or his other reports that angered officials.

Kashin, a reporter for the top business daily Kommersant, was savagely beaten by two thugs outside his apartment building in Moscow earlier this month. He suffered numerous fractures and spent days in a drug-induced coma to reduce his pain.

Kashin was the latest in a line of journalists and activists to be assaulted in Russia, which international media watchdogs rank among the world's most dangerous for reporters. Most attacks on journalists have remained unsolved, including the 2006 slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Looking frail with his left hand bandaged and numerous injuries on his face, Kashin said he hadn't anticipated that his reports would draw such a savage response.

"The times are changing," Kashin said, adding that the authorities show increasingly less tolerance to critical reporting. "The atmosphere is changing, and things which were considered normal before have stopped being normal."

He said that despite his parents' insistence to quit journalism, he plans to stay on the job.

Many observers said that a possible reason for the attack could be Kashin's reporting on efforts by environmentalists and opposition activists to protect a forest outside Moscow from being cut down for a new highway. President Dmitry Medvedev in August ordered the construction suspended, but there has been no final decision on the fate of the highway.

Road construction is one of the most corrupt sectors of Russia's economy, with numerous opportunities for kickbacks. The Khimki highway project offers even broader corruption opportunities than usual because the cleared land along the roadway also is slated for development.

The attack on Kashin followed several other attacks on those who opposed the Khimki road project. Two years ago, Mikhail Beketov, the founder and editor of a Khimki newspaper who campaigned against the project and was beaten so brutally that he was left brain damaged and unable to speak. He also lost a leg and three fingers. The perpetrators have never been found.

Medvedev has demanded that those who attacked Kashin be found and punished.